PREPARATION OF THE THRONE

Today we will look at an icon type that, while sometimes found as an element in other icons, is also seen on its own.

Here is an example of its frequent use as part of an icon of the Страшный Суд — Strashnuiy Sud in a Balkan fresco — the “Terrible Judgment,” which in the West is generally called the “Last Judgment” or the “Second Coming.”

Let’s looks more closely at the central portion relevant to today’s discussion.

At left and right are two angels.  That on the left, with the “M” above his head, is Mikhail/Michael.  That on the right with the “Г” is Gavriil/Gabriel.

In the center is a table on which is a cushion and a book, and behind it a cross flanked by the symbols of the Passion of Jesus, the spear at left, and the reed with a sponge at right.  On the little footstool below the table is a footstool on which are the four nails used to crucify Jesus.

Atop the cushion on the larger table is a dove that oddly enough bears the cruciform halo peculiar to Jesus, and confirming that, we see the abbreviation IC XC just above it — signifying Isus Khrista (Iesous Khristos in Greek) — “Jesus Christ.”  The dove’s feet rest on the Book of the Gospels.  Ordinarily in this type, the dove represents the Holy Spirit, but the painter of this icon seems to have not quite grasped that, so gave it the cruciform halo and inscription abbreviation for Jesus.  The dove can be understood as the presence of the Holy Spirit as paraclete with the Church until the return of Jesus — his representative in a sense. There is also a cloth (sometimes obviously a garment) as the mantle of Jesus — frequently in royal purple,

Parts of this composition have a double meaning.  The large table is both a throne and an altar (prestol — the Slavic word for an Orthodox altar — means “throne.”  The book on it is both the Gospel book commonly found on Orthodox altars, but it also represents the book of Revelation 5:1:

And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.

And it also represents the presence of Jesus.

The identifying inscription of this composition is just below the main crossbar:

OУГОТОВЛЕНИIЕ ПРЕСТОЛА
OUGOTVLENIIE PRESTOLA

Note that in the actual inscription, the “E” in the first word is written with the old Slavic letter pronounced “ye”:

The final IE in the second word is written as the old Slavic compound letter pronounced “IE” (ee-ay):

We will use the more standardized form УГОТОВАНИЕ ПРЕСТОЛА — Ugotovanie Prestola. Ugotovanie means “preparation, making ready”; Prestola is the “of” form of Prestol, meaning “throne.”  So this type is called “The Preparation of the Throne.”

In Psalm 88:15 of the Church Slavic Bible (89:14 KJV), we find:
Прáвда и судьбá уготóванiе престóла тво­егó: ми́лость и и́стина предъи́детѣ предъ лицéмъ тво­и́мъ.
Pravda i sudba ugotovanie prestola tvoego; milost i istina predeidete pred’ litsem’ tvoim’
“Justice and judgment are the preparation of your throne; mercy and truth shall go before your face.”

And in Slavic Psalm 9:8-9 (9:7-8 KJV):
И Госпóдь во вѣ́къ пребывáетъ, уготóва на сýдъ престóлъ свóй: и тóй суди́ти и́мать вселéн­нѣй въ прáвду, суди́ти и́мать лю́демъ въ правотѣ́.
And the Lord forever endures, he has prepared his throne for judgment:  and he will judge the  world in justice, the peoples in uprightness.

Here is a very basic form of the type:

The title inscription above it reads (the two sides join together):

Ἡ ἙΤΥΜΑCΙΑ

That is a rather phonetic variant of the correct spelling:

Ἡ ἙΤΟΙΜΑCΙΑ
He Hetoimasia
“The Preparation.”

In modern Greek the title is pronounced “Ee et-ee-ma-SEE-ah.

Here is a slightly more detailed mosaic version:

note the addition of what appears to be the crown of thorns to the axis of the cross.  In other examples it is a laurel wreath of victory.  The spelling used here is yet another variant:

Ἡ ΕΤΗΜΑCΗΑ
HE ETIMASIA

In this fresco version from the monastery of Dečani, the “Preparation” has become a throne carried by angels:

There is a Gospel book lying on the cloth on the throne, and all together the image forms a kind of Deisis variant, with Mary approaching at left and John the Forerunner (the Baptist) at right.  The two figures below are sometimes found in “Preparation” images.  They are Adam and Eve, and should not be confused with Mary and John the Forerunner.  If you look at the first image in this posting, you will again see Adam (at left) and Eve (at right) below the angels.

If we look more closely at the image, we can read its inscription:

It is:

ВТОРО ПРИШЕСТВИIЕ
VTORO PRISHESTVIIE
or as we more normally find it in Russian literature,

Второ Пришествие
Vtoro Prishestvie
“Second Coming”

It means, of course, the second coming of Jesus, and the angels are bringing out the throne to prepare it for the Last Judgment.  Here the Gospel book on the garment represents the presence of Jesus, and the crown on the cross is a laurel wreath.

In the example found at the Church of Saint Paul “Outside the Walls”  (San Paulo fuori le muri), we see yet more variation:

Looking more closely, we find that the laurel wreath generally found on the cross is here placed on its own stand to the left of the spear, and at right beside the sponge on a reed, we see a Eucharistic symbol — the chalice.  It holds three nails of the crucifixion (instead of four as found in the earlier example).  In some versions this chalice becomes a two-handled vessel placed on the footstool, and it may or may not have the nails within it.  Being a Roman church, in this mosaic the scrolls held by the angels are in Latin.  That at right reads GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO (“Glory to God on High”) and that at left “ET IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS (“And on earth peace to men.”)

The use of an unoccupied throne as the symbol of a ruler is very ancient, and long predates Christianity.

WEDDING AND TEMPTATION

Today we will look at a fresco painted in 1527 at the Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, at Meteora in Greece.  Here is an image:

We can see its positioning here, on the upper right-hand wall:

Perhaps you recognize some of the other large images.  To the left of the doorway, we see the “second entry” into Paradise, with Peter at the door, and the Repentant Thief inside, and a soul sitting in the “bosom of Abraham” in the Paradise Garden.  Above the doorway and to its right is a large image of the “Terrible Judgment” — the “Last Judgment.”  But we want to consider the smaller image on the upper left side of the right-hand wall.

Perhaps you have already recognized the depiction.  It is identified by the title inscription at the top:

It reads:

ὉΕΝΚΑ
ΝΑΓΑΜΟC

As is common in Greek inscriptions, the words run together.  We can separate them as:

Ὁ ΕΝ ΚΑΝΑ ΓΑΜΟC

Ho en Kana Gamos
“The in Cana Marriage”

In normal English,
“The Wedding at Cana.”

It depicts the incident recorded in the Gospel called “of John,” 2:1-11:

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:   And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.  And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus says to him, They have no wine.  Jesus says to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour is not yet come.

His mother says to the servants, Whatever he says to you, do it.  And there were set there six water pots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

Jesus says to them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.  And he says to them, Draw out now, and take it to the governor of the feast. And they took it.

When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not from where it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and says to him, Every man at the beginning does set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but you have kept the good wine until now.

This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

At left we see Jesus and Mary, identified by their usual inscriptions (abbreviated here) — Meter Theou (“Mother of God”) for Mary, and Iesous Khristos for Jesus, who has the cross in his halo.

To their right, we see a servant filling a jug with the water that is to be miraculously made into wine:

So that is the basic image.  But what is going on at the right side?

The painter has blended the edge of one event into another.  The scene at right is actually a part of a larger type depicting the “Temptation of Jesus” in the wilderness, which chronologically happens right after his baptism by John.

The Gospel called “of Mark” (1:12-13) tells us bluntly and briefly:

And immediately the spirit drives him into the wilderness.  And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

The Greek text says literally,
Καὶ εὐθὺς τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει εἰς τὴν ἔρημον.
“And immediately the Spirit casts him out (ekballei) into the wilderness.”  Ekballei is the same term used for the casting out of demons.

Luke and Matthew, however, embroider the event considerably, and that is what we see in this depiction.  Here is Matthew’s account covering the portions we see in the fresco (the second we see only in part):

Matthew 4:1-7:

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungry.

3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”

That is what we see here:  the Devil is telling Jesus to turn the stones into bread:

4 “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

Then the devil takes him up into the holy city, and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple,

And says to him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.

Jesus said uto him, It is written again, You shalt not tempt the Lord your God.”

The portion of the image we can see, however, shows only the Devil pointing to the ground.  Jesus is out of the image and to the right, standing higher up on the Jerusalem temple.

You may recall that according to the biblical story, the Devil also tempted Jesus by taking him to a high mountain and offering to give him all the kingdoms of the world.  We find that in the continued Matthew account:

Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

And says to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.

10 Then says Jesus to him, Get you away, Satan: for it is written, You shalt worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.

In this Russian example of the “Temptation,” (a kleimo (“border image”) from an icon of “The Lord Almighty” enthroned, painted in 1682), we see all three of the temptations:

The large image in the foreground shows the Devil (note the tail!) tempting Jesus to make stones into bread.  At upper right, he takes Jesus to a pinnacle of the Temple and tells him to cast himself down so angels may save him.  And at upper left, he takes him to a high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world.

Take a close look at the name abbreviation by the head of Jesus in the foreground:

It appears to read IИС ХС for  IИСУС ХРИСТОС.  That extra И in the name of Jesus — making it Iisus Khristos — is the reformed spelling used by the State Church after the Old Believers split off from the State Church   The Old Believers continued to spell the name of Jesus Isus, while the State Church added another letter, making it Iisus.  Oddly, however, the background images of Jesus in this example still have the old IC XC form.

THE PERM OLD BELIEVER ICON PAINTING MANUAL

In a previous posting, I shared a link to online access to the Stroganov Icon Painter’s Manual.  Today I would like to share the link to another and quite interesting old podlinnik (painter’s manual) in the Stroganov Museum.

This manual is identified thus:

Лицевой иконописный подлинник 1829 г. из Пермской Успенской старообрядческой церкви
Litsevoy ikonopisnuiy podlinnik 1829 g[oda] iz Permskoy Uspenskoy staroobryadcheskoy tserkvi

Illustrated icon painting manual,  [of the] year 1829, from the Perm Dormition Old  Ritualist Church.

By “Old Ritualist” is of course meant that it is a church of the Old Believers, who continued the traditional stylized manner of painting long after the State Orthodox Church had adopted the more realistic Western European manner.

As I have told you before, it is important in the study of icons to learn the Church Slavic alphabet and to learn the basic Slavic vocabulary common to Russian icons and podlinniki/podlinniks  You can see how helpful that is in reading this rather fascinating Perm icon painter’s manual.

Here is the image for September 1, the beginning of the old Church year.  This image is not included in the earlier Stroganov manual, through it is described verbally:

As you see, it represents the “Indiction” type, which indicates the beginning of the Church Year through an image of Jesus beginning his ministry by reading from the Book of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth (see the earlier posting on this type at: https://russianicons.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/the-indiction-which-is-the-new-year/)

The writing on the page reads:

МЕСАЦЪ СЕНТЯБРЬ
Mesats  Sentyabr
MONTH [of ] SEPTEMBER

НАЧАЛО ИНДИКТОУ ЕЖЕ ЕСТЬ
Nachalo Indiktou ezhe est
BEGINNING [of the] INDICTION, WHICH IS

НОВОМОУ ЛЕТУ
Novomou Letou
[the] NEW YEAR

ИМАТ ДНIИ Л
Imat dni 30
Has    Days   30

In normal English,

“The Month of September:
The Beginning of the Indiction, which is the New Year.
[September] has 30 days.”

Here is the link to the main page for the Perm manual:

http://stroganovmuseum.ru/vokrug-stroganovykh/izdaniya/item/81-litsevoj-ikonopisnyj-podlinnik-1829-g

On it you will see two entries (you can click on these links here, if you wish):

Часть 1 (с. 1-104)

Часть 2 (c. 105-216)

Часть (Chast)  means “part,” so the first link is to Part 1, pages 1-104,  and the second link to Part 2, pages 105-216.  Most of the Part 2 illustrations are lightly drawn, but were never fully inked in.

You will also find an alternate entry point with a different format on this link:

https://eikon.piwigo.com/index?/category/548-1829_%D0%B3

At the beginning of the podlinnik is an incomplete alphabetical list giving a saint’s name and where he or she is to be found in the book, which is arranged by month and day of commemoration.  The word числа (chisla) at upper right means “number” (date).

To see how it works, we can look at the second entry on the first index page:

Avvakoum Prorok, Deka[br] B

Meaning,
Avvakoum [Habakkuk], Prophet, December 2

If we look at December 2nd, we find this (the page is for December 1 and 2):

It gives us first the saint for the first (A) day of December:
“Of the Holy Prophet Nahum”

Then come those for the Second (B) day:
“Of the Holy Martyr Ananias of Persia”
“Of the Holy Prophet Avvakum”
“Of Holy Philaret the Merciful”

Notice that the female saint second from right has her name entered last, in smaller letters:
“Of the Holy Martyr Myropia.”

If we look in the halos, there are notations helpful to the painter.  In the halo of the Prophet Nahum, we see the word седъ — syed — meaning “grey.”  So we know he is an older man with grey hair.  By contrast, in the halos of the Martyr Ananias and the Prophet Avvakum, we find the word млад — mlad — meaning “young/youth.”

On another page we find Ису́с Нави́н — Isus Navvin — Joshua, son of Nun — and in his halo and in that of the saint beside him — Feodor Yaroslav Vsevolodovich — we find the word русъ — rus –“Russian” — which means the hair of these saints is to be painted in that light brown to dark blond color common to many Russians.  But in this manual, the colors of the garments are not indicated as they are in the Stroganov podlinnik.

By the way, you may notice that Joshua in Slavic has the same name as Jesus — Isus, as is also the case in the Greek Bible.  The Old Testament Jesus — that is, Joshua — is distinguished by the addition of “Navvin” in Slavic and του Ναυή — tou Naui — “of Nun” in Greek.

Here is the page for December 3-4:

On it we see the Prophet Sophoniya (Zephaniah), “our Venerable Father Sabba Storozhevsky Zvenigorodskiy,” “Holy Martyr Theodora,” “Holy Great Martyr Barbara,” “our Venerable Father John of Damascus,” and so on.  But what I really want you to notice is the entry in red at the bottom of the page:

Д ТРОРУЧИЦЫ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ
4  [OF THE ] TROERUCHITSUI PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI
“4  THREE-HANDED MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”

That notation means that December 4th is the day of Commemoration of the icon of Mary called the “Three-handed Most Holy Mother of God.”  In the standard Church calendar, its days are June 28th and July 12th, but here it is placed on the day of John of Damascus, who was associated traditionally with its origin “miracle.” This manual indicates the commemoration of days of supposed “miracle-working” Marian icons with these red entries, but it does not depict these Marian images.  For those the painter had to turn to other patterns outside this book.

I will end this little introduction to the Perm Old Believer podlinnik with this page from November 8, the Sobor Svyatago Arkhistratiga Mikhaila in Prochikh Bezplotnuikh Sil — “The Assembly of the Chief-commander Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers.”

If you are interested in old patterns, you may also wish to look at Nikodim Kondakov’s published collection of icon patterns (volume I is primarily “Jesus” patterns), which you can do at this site:

http://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01000869530#?page=1

On that site, click on the thumbnail pages at left to get the enlarged image on the main screen.  Be sure to look at the patterns from page 156 on.

Those of you who would like to see the 1903 “Bolshakov Podlinnik” online — more properly the Подлинник иконописный — Издание С.Т. Большакова. Под редакцией . А.И. Успенского  — the “Icon Painting Manual — publisher S(ergey) T(ikhonovich) Bolshakov, edited by A. I Uspenskiy” — will find it at the following site:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t2v449g6w;view=1up;seq=1

The Bolshakov Podlinnik is a kind of revised and expanded version of the old Stroganov Podlinnik, using more casual outline drawings taken largely from that earlier manual, and adding a descriptive text (Church Slavic) modified by reference to other old painter’s manuals.  Though the re-drawn illustrations are not artistic, they nonetheless do the job, and the text is very useful for those who wish to learn the vocabulary of the old painter’s manuals, giving verbal descriptions of the various saints and indicating the form and colors of hair and garments.

The descriptions by month begin here:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t2v449g6w;view=1up;seq=37

The illustrations begin here:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=gri.ark:/13960/t2v449g6w;view=1up;seq=201

One of the sources consulted in the preparation of the Bolshakov manual was the Софийский Списокъ Подлинника Новгородской Редакции XVI Века  — Sophiyskiy Spisok Podlinnika Novgorodskoy Redakstsii XVI Veka — “The Sophia Copy of the Podlinnik, Novogorod Redaction of the 16th Century.”  You will find online access to that text-only podlinnik here:

http://dlib.rsl.ru/viewer/01007492474#?page=1

Enjoy!

IN YOU REJOICES: THE BASIC RUSSIAN TYPE

In Russian Marian iconography, the type “In You Rejoices” appeared in the late 15-early 16th century.  It takes its name from, and illustrates, a well-known liturgical hymn attributed to John of Damascus and found in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and in the matins service.

О Тебе радуется, Благодатная, всякая тварь,
In you rejoices, Blessed One, every creature,
Ангельский собор и человеческий род,
The assembly of angels and the race of man.
Освященный Храме и Раю Словесный,
Sanctified Temple and Spiritual Paradise,
Девственная похвало. из Неяже Бог воплотися
Praise of virgins.  From whom God was incarnate
И Младенец бысть, прежде век Сый Бог наш.
And became a child, our God before ages.
Ложесна бо Твоя Престол сотвори.
Your body he made a throne,
И чрево Твое пространнее небес содела.
And your womb wider than the heavens.
О Тебе радуется, Благодатная, всякая тварь, слава Тебе.
In you rejoices, Blessed One, every creature, glory to you.

In icon inscriptions you may also find the text worded in the older form (with basically the same meaning) beginning like this:

О Тебе радуется, обрадованная, вся тварь,
O tebe raduetsya obradovannaya, vsya tvar’

Here is an example of the basic type from the 16th century:

Mary is seated on the throne (“Your body he made a throne”) in the central circle with Jesus as Immanuel on her lap (“and became a child”).  Above her is the Ангельский соборangelskiy sobor — “the assembly of angels.”  And below here is the человеческий родchelovecheskiy rod — “the race of man.”  the number and type of “man” figures varies somewhat from example to example, generally including Old Testament prophets and kings, the apostles, monks, nuns, and other saints. Some examples add so many saints that that the type becomes quite detailed

Standard elements of the Russian “In You Rejoices” type are the domed church (“Sanctified temple”) and Paradise trees (“Spiritual Paradise”), as well as the image of John of Damascus, seen here just below the central circle at lower left, holding out his scroll with the hymn to Mary on it

Icons under this name are more common in Russian than Greek iconography.   Greek examples may vary considerably from the Russian type.  Here is a version from the late 1600s by Theodoros Poulakis (Θεόδωρος Πουλάκης, 1622–1692), a Cretan painter and student of Elias Moschos who went to live in Venice, then in the Venetian-ruled Ionian isles, dying in Corfu.  It includes a great many details.

(Benaki Museum, Athens)

If we look closely, we can see that it even includes the signs of the zodiac around Mary:

The icon bears an interesting signature:

Κόπος και σπουδή Θεοδώρου Πουλάκη εκ Κυδωνίας της περιφήμου νήσου Κρήτης.

“The toil and diligence of Theodore Poulakis from Kydonia of the renowned Island of Crete.”

Just so you will recognize the hymn if you encounter it in Greek, here it is:

Ἐπὶ σοὶ χαίρει, Κεχαριτωμένη, πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις, Ἀγγέλων τὸ σύστημα, καὶ ἀνθρώπων τὸ γένος, ἡγιασμένε ναέ, καὶ Παράδεισε λογικέ, παρθενικὸν καύχημα, ἐξ ἧς Θεός ἐσαρκώθη, καὶ παιδίον γέγονεν, ὁ πρὸ αἰώνων ὑπάρχων Θεὸς ἡμῶν∙ τὴν γὰρ σὴν μήτραν, θρόνον ἐποίησε, καὶ τὴν σὴν γαστέρα, πλατυτέραν οὐρανῶν ἀπειργάσατο. Ἐπὶ σοὶ χαίρει Κεχαριτωμένη, πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις, δόξα σοι..

 

 

THE MARVELOUS, MISERABLE, MEANDERING LIFE OF MAXIM THE GREEK

 

In a previous posting, I talked about the conflict in the Russian Orthodoxy of the 1500s over two opposing approaches to monasticism.  On the one hand were the Non-possessors like Nil Sorskiy, who thought monks should live an ascetic, hesychast life based on the “skete” or hermitage model of Mount Athos in Greece:  a small dwelling for the spiritual guide and a disciple or two, with the others living nearby in community, all being self-sufficient, accepting donations, and offering religious counsel to those lay people in the area.  They also promoted religious tolerance rather than forcing people to accept their beliefs.

But opposing this view were Joseph of Volokolamsk and his followers, the Possessors, the “establishment” monks, who were were accustomed to owning wide tracts of land (about a third of Russian land at that time was held by monasteries), being masters — as was the Russian nobility of the time — of the peasants who worked on it, and receiving from their lands the produce, services and goods of those basically enslaved peasants.  These were the advocates of monastic wealth. And they were religiously intolerant, believing those with different beliefs should be arrested and punished, with the State acting as the punishing arm of the Church.

Knowing that background, we can turn now to the life of  Michael Trivolis (Μιχαήλ Τρίβολης), c. 1480–1556, a young man born to wealth in Greece.  In the same year that  Columbus stumbled upon the New World — 1492 —  Michael (then about 20-22) traveled to Italy, which of course was a Roman Catholic country.  He studied in Venice, in Padua, Ferarra, Bologna,Milan, and even in that most noted of Renaissance centers of art and learning, Florence.  He knew the famous printer Aldus Manutius and moved in the humanist circles of the time.  He listened eagerly to the fiery sermons of the reforming monk Savonarola, who preached against what he felt were the excesses of the Renaissance — sermons which led to the noted Bonfire of the Vanities, in which books, manuscripts, paintings and other works of art, musical instruments and secular compositions, fine dresses, mirrors, and so on, were all thrown into the flames and burned for being too “worldly.”  It is said that even the great painter Sandro Botticelli destroyed some of his own works (which if true, is a great loss to art).

Michael Trivolis was highly impressed by the ascetic preaching of the Dominican monk Savonarola, and though he may never have actually spoken with him, Michael nonetheless chose to become a Dominican monk about 1501, and even entered the Monastery of San Marco, which had formerly been Savonarola’s monastery.  So this young man from a wealthy and highly-connected Eastern Orthodox family became a Roman Catholic Dominican monk.

Sometime during his two-year stay at San Marco, he changed his mind, and though he had spent some twelve years in Renaissance Italy, by about 1505-1506 he had left it, and in 1597 he was living as a monk in the Greek Orthodox Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos, in Greece, under the name Maximos.  Eventually (after some twelve or more years), he was sent to Russia in 1518, where he was to translate patristic commentaries on the Psalter and other Greek writings. He did not know Church Slavic (the literary language in Russia), so he translated from Greek to Latin, and Russians who knew Latin translated into Church Slavic.  Eventually he learned enough Slavic to translate directly, though not without imperfections.

In Russia he not only translated, but also began to criticize the lifestyles of the Russian clergy and the wealthy land-owning monasteries and the abysmal treatment of peasants, taking the side of the Non-possessors, which is not surprising given the strong influence the ascetic sermons of Savonarola had on him in Italy.  Maxim favored poverty and simplicity in monasticism. He did not, by the way, tell his Russian hosts he had once been a Roman Catholic Dominican monk.  They would not have liked it, given the disdain of Russia for the “Latins” and their presumed heresies.

With his strong and outspoken views on many topics, Maxim eventually fell afoul of Church and State in Russia — partly because he opposed the desire of Vasili III to divorce his wife and remarry (shades of Henry VIII!).  A sobor (“council”) condemned him for heresy in 1525.  He spent approximately the last 30 years of his life imprisoned or confined because of his views, though in the last five years his circumstances eased.  He died at the Trinity-Sergiyev Monastery in 1556, never having been allowed to return to Greece after his fall from grace, because, it is said, he “knew too much” about Russia.  Within a century of his death he was being regarded as a saint, particularly among the Old Believers, no doubt partly due to his persecution by Church and State, which the Old Believers also suffered.

Maxim is said to have brought the news of the discovery of the New World to Russia.  And though he preached against aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine once he returned to Eastern Orthodoxy, he never lost his high regard for the Dominican monk Savonarola, saying that if he had not been a “Latin” by faith, he would have been numbered among the ispovedniki — the Confessors of the Church.

He is called in Russia Максим Грек — Maksim Grek  — “Maxim the Greek,” and in Greek Μάξιμος ὁ Γραικός.

In icons, Maxim the Greek can be recognized by his remarkably wide, pizza-paddle-shaped beard.  As already mentioned, because of his long years of suffering for his beliefs, Maxim early on became a hero saint to the Old Believers, which is why his icons were common among them.  Paradoxically, he is also now a saint of the State Church that persecuted him, though not officially accepted as such until 1988, 432 years after his death.

 

A common text on books or scrolls held by Maxim in Russian icons is the so-called “Prayer of Maxim” — this line, taken from his Canon to the Holy Spirit, which he is said to have written in charcoal on the wall of his prison:

“Иже манною препитавый Израиля в пустыни древле, и душу мою, Владыко, Духа наполни Всесвятаго, яко да о Нем благоугодно служу Ти выну…”

“Who manna did feed to Israel in the wilderness of old, also fill my soul, Master, with the All-holy Spirit, through whom I may give favorable service to you always…”

 

A WINDOW TO THE PAST: REPIN AND THE KURSK ROOT ICON

Aside

Anyone familiar with Russian art will have seen the remarkable painting (completed in 1883) by Ilya Repin (1844–1930) called Крестный ход в Курской губернии — Krestnuiy khod v Kurskoy Gubernii loosely, “Religious Procession in Kursk Province.”  It is fascinating not only because of the skill of the artist, but also because it is a look at Tsarist Russia, warts and all.  With a slight change of costume, it could be a scene out of the Middle Ages:

To the left, we see the poor and humble walking as best they can, and above them, mounted on horses, the civil authorities.

In the center we see the well-to do and the clergy.  Note the many tree stumps on the slope behind them:

At right — in front of the fellow striking at the crowd with his whip — men carry an elaborate structure, decorated with flowers and beribboned.  It contains an icon, though we see only the golden glints of light reflecting off its case.  Some of those carrying it are shod in woven bark shoes, which was common among the peasantry of those days:

Though many are familiar with the painting, most do not know that it depicts the annual procession carrying the Курская Коренная — Kurskaya Korennaya — the “Kursk Root” icon — from the monastery where it was kept to the city of Kursk.

Today we will take a look at that somewhat controversial icon type.  Here is the “Kursk Root” image as it appears today, in its enameled and filigreed cover in the style of the beginning of the 20th century.

It is said that the Kursk Root icon originally consisted only of the center image of Mary and the Christ Child, in the form known as the Znamenie (“Sign”) Mother of god.  Before we get into that, let’s take a look at the inscription across the bottom of the icon.  It is long, so I will divide it.  Here is the beginning:

It reads:

ИЗОБРАЗЧЕНИЕ И МЕРА ЧУДОТВОРНАГО ОБРАЗА…
IZOBRAZHENIE I MYERA CHUDOTVORNAGO OBRAZA…
“[The] Representation and Measure of the Wonder-working Image…”

…ЗНАМЕНИЯ ПРЕСВЯТЫЯ БОГОРОДИЦЫ КОРЕННО КУРСКИЯ
...ZNAMENIYA PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI KORENNO KURSKIYA
“[Of the] “Sign” Most-Holy Mother-of-God  Root-Kursk.”

So all together,
“THE REPRESENTATION AND MEASURE OF THE WONDERWORKING IMAGE OF THE ‘SIGN’ MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD ‘ROOT-KURSK.'”

The origin story of the icon tells us that its “appearance” took place in the 13th century (the 1200s), when Russia had been devastated by the plundering and burning Mongol hordes.  The tale is set in the vicinity of Kursk, a place some 280 miles south of Moscow.

Kursk was destroyed by the invading Tatars under Batu Khan about 1237-1240, and was not rebuilt again until 1586.  After the invasions of the Tatars, what had been a city became a wilderness.

In the autumn of 1295 (September 8th, so the story goes), a hunter from Rylsk, a city down the Sem River to the West, came wandering through the forest in the vicinity of Kursk, looking for game.  On the banks of the Tuskar River near Kursk, he found a small icon lying face down at the roots of a tree.  When he turned it over, he found it to be a copy of the “Sign” Mother of God.  And it is said that as soon as he picked it up, a spring of water bubbled out of the ground where it had lain (remember the Catholic story of Bernadette and the spring at Lourdes?).  That is supposed to have been the icon’s first miracle.

Here is a map showing Kursk ( Курскъ ) at right center, and at the far lower left is Rylsk (Рылскъ)

If we look more closely at Kursk, we see the River Tuskar (Тускар ) flowing northward just to the right of it, and bending eastward near the top of the image:

A little wooden chapel was built for the icon there, and its reputation as a miracle-working icon began to spread.  Soon people were coming all the way from Rylsk to venerate the image and to hope for miracles.

Hearing all the news, Prince Vasiliy Shemyaka of Rylsk ordered that the icon be brought to Rylsk, and crowds of citizens went out to greet the icon on its arrival, but the Prince himself was not among them.  Because of this sign of disrespect, the legend says Prince Vasiliy was struck blind, until (as these stories go — another common motif), he repented with prayer before the icon, and was healed.  He then had a church dedicated to the “Birth of the Most Holy Mother of God” built at Rylsk for the icon, and established a feast to be held annually in its honor.

But here we encounter yet another common motif in the hagiography of icons.  You will remember that traditionally these “wonderworking” icons behave like conscious persons, and can move under their own volition.  Well, the story tells us that the icon from Kursk disappeared from the church at Rylsk, and was found to have returned to the little chapel originally built for it at Kursk.  The citizens of Rylsk went to retrieve it, but when they brought it back to Rylsk, it disappeared again.  This happened several times, until finally the people of Rylsk accepted the inevitable and let the icon stay where it wanted to be, at Kursk.  A priest named Bogoliub (literally “God-Love”) came and undertook the care and rituals of the chapel.

In 1383 the Tatars came back to Kursk, and tried to burn down the chapel.  It would not burn, so they suspected Bogoliub of magic.  The priest told them it was the icon that was protecting the chapel, so they took the icon, cut it in two pieces, threw the pieces off in different places, burnt the chapel (it worked this time), and took Bogoliub prisoner.  He worked as a captive sheepherder until rescued by some ambassadors from Moscow who heard him singing songs to Mary as they passed by.  Bogoliub returned to the site of the chapel, found the pieces of the icon, and they are said to have miraculously grown back together, with no sign of the cut showing except the presence of something like dew.

Hearing of these wonders, the people of Rylsk took the icon back to their city, but again the icon disappeared and was found back at Kursk.  So they rebuilt the burnt chapel at Kursk for the icon, and it stayed there for some 200 years.

In 1597 Tsar Feodor of Moscow ordered the rebuilding of the city of Kursk, heard of the “miracles” of its icon, and had it brought to Moscow, where it was received with great acclaim.  The Tsaritsa Irina had a rich covering of pearls, precious stones, etc. made for the icon.  It was at this time that the Tsar is said to have had the original icon placed in a gilt silver frame, with the image of Lord Sabaoth (God the Father) at the top, and Old Testament prophets at the sides (as in the icon type “The Praise of the Mother of God”).  Then the icon was sent back to Kursk.  A monastery and church were built on the site of the old chapel, and a new church dedicated to Mary as the “Lifegiving Fountain” was constructed where the spring had appeared when the icon was found.  The Monastery came to be known as the “Root Desert,” after the root where the icon was originally discovered.  “Desert” (Пустынь/Pustuin) is used in Russian Orthodoxy to signify a monastic settlement, recalling the Theban Desert of Egypt, where Christian monasticism originated.

When another Tartar invasion threatened, the icon was taken to a larger church in the city of Kursk, and a copy was left in its place in the chapel.

In the 17th century, the “Pretender” Dmitriy (eventually Tsar of Russia from 1605-1606) claimed to be the son of Tsar Ivan “the Terrible” and to have survived an assassination attempt.  His army fought to put him on the throne, and during his battles he knew the propaganda value of the Kursk icon, and had it brought to his military camp in Putivl.  He eventually took it with him to the palace in Moscow.  The icon was there until 1615.

In 1612, a Polish commander besieged Kursk, but it is said the inhabitants prayed to Mary, who supposedly appeared on the walls with two shining monks to fend off the attackers.  The citizens of Kursk promised in their prayers that they would build a monastery in the city in the name of the “Sign” icon.  They petitioned the Tsar (then Mikhail Feodorovich), and in 1615 the icon was returned to Kursk and placed in the cathedral there.  In 1618 it was moved to the “Sign” Monastery in Kursk.

In the intervening years, the icon (or copies of it) was further used in one conflict or another — including a copy sent to General Kutuzov by the City of Kursk in the Napoleonic invasion of 1812.  This again is an example of the belief that icons can aid in battle and defense (or be used as propaganda devices to inspire soldiers, depending on one’s point of view).

It is said that Revolutionaries tried to blow up the icon in 1898, but it somehow survived the explosion undamaged.  It was stolen from the “Sign” Monastery in April of 1918 and stripped of its valuable covering, but it was found and returned in early May.

In 1919 (this is after the Revolution) the icon was taken to Serbia, briefly to Crimea in 1910, then back to Serbia, and eventually to Munich (Germany), and in 1951 to the United States, settling eventually at the New Kursk Hermitage in Mahopac, New York and the  Cathedral Church of the Mother of God of the Sign in New York City, which is the residence of the First Hierarch of the very conservative division of Orthodoxy called the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).  It is treated by present-day Russian Orthodox much as it was in the past, as a “miracle-working” icon, and as such it continues to add new stories of its “miracles” to its traditional history.

 Now, as mentioned earlier, it is said that the original icon found at Kursk was a small copy of the Znamenie/”Sign” type, and that later the image of “Lord Sabaoth” (God the Father) and nine Old Testament Prophets were added to it in 1597 when it was brought to Moscow.

In recent times there has been much controversy over the presence of God the Father on the image.  Some of the more conservative Russian Orthodox (there is a strong, very conservative element in Eastern Orthodoxy) consider it to be heretical, which always amuses me, given the widespread and centuries-long use of the image of God the Father in Eastern Orthodox icons.  And of course it is paradoxical that an icon with a supposedly heretical image atop it should nonetheless be considered “miracle-working” through more than four centuries after the additions were supposedly made.

In any case, it is standard for copies of the icon to depict all of the figures, including God the Father right at the top.  So common is this practice that I have never seen an old copy without them.

Here is an example in which the image of Lord Sabaoth (with the Dove of the Holy Spirit) at the top center is plainly labeled Б[о]гъ О[те]цъ — Bog Otets — “God the Father.”  The longer inscription at the base reads:  “The Representation and Measure of the Wonderworking Image of the “Sign” Most Holy Mother of God of Kursk.


(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Interestingly, an example of the “Kursk Root” type in the collection the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts was recently called to my attention.  Here it is:

(Courtesy of The Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton Ma)

This particular icon is interesting and unusual because someone, at some time, apparently removed the image of God the Father that should be in the clouds at the top, leaving an oddly blank space never found in such icons:

The  images of the prophets on examples of the type vary slightly from image to image.  The example just above shows (King) David, Moses, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, at left, Habakkuk at the base, and (King) Solomon, Daniel, Isaiah, and Elijah at right.  The example shown first on this page depicts David, Moses, Isaiah and Gideon at left, Habakkuk at bottom center, and Solomon, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Elijah at right.

THE PASSION AND JUDAS — A CONTROVERSIAL FIGURE

This icon depicts fourteen scenes from the pre-Crucifixion “Passion” (Stradanie) of Jesus:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: http://www.Russianicons.net)

Though it does not bear an overall title, the little inscriptions by each image identify the various scenes.  As is common in icons, one begins at the upper left corner, moves right, then back to the left side and across again.  Let’s get a quick overview of the images:

Here, “the Jews consult to kill Jesus Christ”:

Here Judas (at left) betrays Jesus to the Jews for 30 pieces of silver:

Here Mary (standing before the other two Marys) implores Jesus “Not to enter Jerusalem”:

Jesus delivers his mother into the keeping of Mary and Martha:

Here is the “Mystic Supper” — the “Last Supper” of Jesus with his disciples:

Here is the “Washing of the Feet” — Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.  Note that Judas, just to the left of the kneeling Jesus, has no halo because of his betrayal of Jesus, in this and other scenes:

Here Judas receives his 30 pieces of silver and informs on Jesus to the Jews:

Here is the “Prayer of the Cup,” the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Here Jesus tells his sleepy disciples to watch and pray:

Here Judas comes with the soldiers who are to arrest Jesus:

Here Judas gives the kiss that identifies and betrays Jesus to the soldiers:

Here the soldiers take the identified Jesus, as Peter cuts off the ear of Malchus:

Here the soldiers bring Jesus before the Archpriest Annas:

Here Annas questions Jesus as Peter denies knowing him three times:

Having done that, let’s focus on one particular fellow in this visual narrative:  Judas.  He is the little guy at left in this image, without a beard.  We see his name written above is head:  IЮДА — IOUDA — “Judas.”

Here he sits at the table of the “Last Supper”:

Judas is easily identifiable at the table, because he has NO HALO; and again, his name is written above his head.  He sits in the foreground between Peter at right, and Bartholomew at left.

Now there is something significant to note in this little image.  You will often hear it said (and read in books) that saints in icons are never shown in a complete side profile.  Well, you can see for yourself, from this image, that it is not always true.  We here see saints Bartholomew, Peter, and Andrew in full side profile.

Now oddly enough, Judas not only causes trouble for Jesus in the story of the passion, but he also has caused, and still causes, a good deal of trouble for biblical scholars, because he is something of a confusing mystery.

Some believe that Judas had no historical reality, but was a fictional creation in early Christian writing.  Why might one believe that?

You may recall that in 66 c.e there was a major revolt of the Jewish people against the Roman authorities at Jerusalem.  This began the Roman-Jewish war, which last from 66 until 73 c.e.   Near the beginning of this revolt, the Romans plundered the Temple in Jerusalem, which only incited further rebellion, and Jewish rebels not only defeated a Roman military legion but also slaughtered some 6,000 Romans.  The matter came to an end with the taking of Jerusalem by Titus Flavius (son of Emperor Vespasian) in 70 c.e. and the destruction of the Jewish Temple, and the last resistance was wiped out at the fortress of Masada in 73 c.e.

Needless to say, Jews were not popular among Romans during this time.  And early Christianity — which was just getting under way — was not yet clearly distinguished from the other segments of belief and antagonistic factions among the Jews.  After the destruction of the Temple, Christians differed from other Jews in believing that the reason for that destruction was the refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah;  non-Jesus-accepting Jews, on the other hand, believed the reason was failure to observe the Torah.

How does all this relate to Judas?  Well, the name Ιουδα — Iouda — (Judas) given the betrayer of Jesus in the New Testament — is just the Greek spelling of the Hebrew name Yehudah — Judah.  In short, a “Jew” (Yehudi) is one from the Tribe of Judah — and the Jews in general are Yehudim (plural form).  So the name “Judas” can be understood to be representative of the Jewish people as a whole in the New Testament — so goes the theory, which posits that this was an early Christian way of taking the blame for the death of Jesus away from the Romans and putting it on “the Jews,” from whom the Christians now wanted to distance themselves.

The earliest Christian writings in the New Testament are those of Paul.  And in all his writing, Paul never mentions that Jesus was betrayed by someone named Judas.  In fact he nowhere says that Jesus was specifically “betrayed.”  In the King James Version, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:23:

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread…”

The Greek word translated “betrayed” by the KJV translators in the 17th century, however, is παρεδίδετο (paradideto), which means “handed over,” rather than specifically “betrayed.”  So Paul — the earliest Christian writer — never mentions Judas, nor does he say specifically “betrayed.”

The theory, then, is that “Mark,” (actually the anonymous writer of the Gospel we call “of Mark) when writing after Paul, decided to introduce a character into the story of Jesus who not only betrayed him, but who could be understood as a representative of the Jewish people as a whole (“Judah”) — again, to take the blame for the death of Jesus away from the Romans, and put it on the Jews.  This decision, so the theory goes, was the New Testament root of the Antisemitism that has caused so much trouble over the last two millennia.

There is much more to this theory, which includes reference to Old Testament texts that look to have provided details of the “betrayal by Judas” story, including the thirty pieces of silver — but I will leave further investigation to those interested in this matter.  It takes us too far afield from iconography.

And speaking of iconography, where else do we find Judas in Eastern Orthodox icons?  We find images of his hanging of himself (actually, Matthew 27:3-8 says he hanged himself, while Acts 1:16-19 says he fell in a field and split himself open) in monastic frescos such as this one from the Gelati Monastery in Georgia (the country, not the state):

The other icon type in which we find Judas, you may recall, is that of the “Terrible Judgment,” which shows the naked Judas sitting in the lap of Satan in Hell:

Often he is shown — as here — still with his bag of silver still in his hand: